The Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph are, somewhat belatedly, gleefully reporting the "outing" of a military fantasist by habituées of he British Army Rumour Service website, which happened a couple of months back back in April, - see their ARSSEpedia wiki page on Jim McAuley
There always have been such military fantasists, some who have never been in the military atl, and some who, like Jim McAuley exaggerate their military career. ARSSE even has a tongue in cheek wiki page "bluffers guide" which helps others to detect them or, which might help potential fantasists to spin a more convincing yarn - Walting With Confidence ("walt" as in Walter Mitty)
Jim McAuley has resigned from his current military job as a cadet force instructor, and made an apology.
A fantasist has been caught making a fool of himself in public, and has apologised. All well and good.
So why is this story rather troubling to Spy Blog ?
These two mainstream media publications have lifted text and pictures without attribution and without linking to the online URLs .of the sources for this story. What does that say about the standards and ethics of professional "investigative" journalists, compared with bloggers ?
The Daily Telegraph have also, to their utter discredit, published Jim McAuley's full home address.
Exactly what crime did Jim McAuley commit ? None.
What harm did he do, to anyone or anything but his own reputation ? None.
Where is the overwhelming public interest in publishing his home address ? None.
Being an Army Cadet Force instructor may be a minor, low level military job, but that still made him a current "member of Her Majesty's forces". Nobody disputes that he did actually serve as a member of the Army Catering Corp.
One of the Clauses of the Counter-Terrorism Bill currently going through Parliament, and which has been over shadowed by the "42 days" furore, is Clause 83:
83 Offences relating to information about members of armed forces etc
(1) After section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (c. 11) (collection of information)
"58A Eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc
(1) A person commits an offence who--
(a) elicits or attempts to elicit information about an individual who is or has been--
(i) a member of Her Majesty's forces,
(ii) a member of any of the intelligence services, or
(iii) a constable,
which is of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism, or
(b) publishes or communicates any such information.
(2) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section
to prove that they had a reasonable excuse for their action.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable--
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to a fine, or to both;
(b) on summary conviction--
(i) in England and Wales or Scotland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both;
(ii) in Northern Ireland, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.
(4) In this section "the intelligence services" means the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and GCHQ (within the meaning of section 3 of the Intelligence Services Act 1994 (c. 13)).
Remember that even if you are not charged or convicted under this section, but simply arrested, you will suffer the humiliation of being fingerprinted and DNA sampled and will be tagged as a "suspected terrorist" for the rest of your life, on "intelligence databases" which will be secretly shared with foreign governments, without the full context of the incident being recorded.
Even if you have a "reasonable excuse" defence under subsection (2), that is too late, it only applies once you are facing prosecution in court, it will not prevent you from being arrested in the first place.
There are some Obvious Questions about this Clause 83:
- What is the justification for a 10 year prison sentence, just for information about current or former military personnel, intelligence service personnel or police constables, when the existing Terrorism Section 58 already has a penalty of up to 7 years in prison for "any" information ?
- Is this proposed legislation a tacit admission by the Home Office, that the conviction of the mentally sub-normal mentally sub-normal Abu Baker Mansha , who was given 6years in prison for possession of the name and a partial (out of date) address of a serving war hero, scribbled on a copy of The Sun newspaper, was, perhaps, not legally sound ?
- How many thousands of years in prison, do those people who individually and collectively contributed to the loss of the unencrypted military recruitment database, on a stolen laptop computer, which put the names and addresses of over 1 million people, including hundreds of thousands of military recruits and their families, at risk ? - see the Spy Blog category archive - MoD security and privacy breach
- The Daily Telegraph was obviously wrong to publish Jim McAuley's home address in the story above, but should the newspaper staff really be facing 10 years in prison and / or an unlimited fine for doing so ?
- Should the British Army Rumour Service bloggers and discussion forum members etc. really also be facing facing 10 years in prison and / or an unlimited fine ?
- Clause 83 makes no legal distinction between a current member of the SAS or other Special Forces, or of members of the Royal Family (several of whom are former or current military officers) and a former member of the Army Catering Corps - why are they are all covered equally ?
- Will this clause be abused by jobsworths, who will then try to restrict photography in public places of any Police constables or military personnel ?
N.B. Police Community Support Officers are not sworn Police Constables.
- Will this clause have an unintended effect on voluntary organisations and charities, which help to look after former military people e.g. the Royal British Legion etc. ? Will the act of compiling membership lists, or taking group photographs of "old comrades" commemorations now be chilled ?
- Will there be a chilling effect on the authorship and publication of military history and memoirs ?
- Will there be a chilling effect on specialist publications like, say, Eye Spy Magazine, or the mainstream media in general ?
- Could this clause be used, perhaps in the future, to help to suppress any criticism of the military, intelligence agencies or the Police, by bloggers ?
There is no need for this Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008 Clause 83, and it should be dropped from the Bill.
Ideally the whole of the Terrorism Act 2000 Section 58 should be repealed, we should not be prosecuting people for "Thought Crimes" or for scientific or engineering knowledge, but only for actual possession of weapons, explosives, firearms or money etc. with a clear terrorist intent. At the very least, there should be a Statutory Code of Practice which clearly prevents Section 58t from being used to legally threaten or harass photographers, journalists, bloggers, historians, or biographers who write about military or intelligence or police matters, or anybody with relevant scientific or engineering training and knowledge.